Research Methods in Mass Communication Research: A Census of Eight Journals 1990-2000

Article excerpt

This article replicates previous studies on methods used in mass communication research. A total of 2,649 articles from eight communication journals are analyzed for their use of quantitative versus qualitative methods, research focus, data-gathering procedures, and data sources. Additional attention is given to the concept of triangulation, especially the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. The results show scholarship in this set of journals presents a roughly 60/40 quantitative/qualitative split and rarely combines quantitative and qualitative approaches. Triangulation is not formally represented. More than half (58%) of both qualitative and quantitative work is atheoretical.

Keeping tabs on the research produced in any given field is no small task. Such efforts range from discrete meta-analyses of specific concepts and topics to the ongoing maintenance of large bibliographic databases and informatics. Mass communication offers no exception to this variety of work as researchers in this field have regularly directed their efforts toward the research enterprise itself. This work examines research in mass communication as far back as the 1930s1 and includes topics ranging from the content of specific journals2 to the use of specific methods,3 concept development,4 and broad trends in multiple journals spanning decades.5

This article offers a unique element to the body of work examining the research in mass communication by providing a more detailed look at the use of research methods during the 1990s. This article also serves as a companion piece for two other published works. First, the material presented here is designed as a direct replication of Cooper, Potter, and Dupagne's 1994 "A Status Report on Methods Used in Mass Communication Research." While a census is employed in this work rather than a sample as used by those authors, identical coding schemes are employed to provide a fairly direct comparison with the 1994 study. This allows examination of data spanning thirty-five years. second, this article serves as a comparison work for "Mass Communication Research Trends from 1980 to 1999" by Kamhawi and Weaver, providing support for some of the inferences made in their sample.

As in the previous work, an important focus of this article is on the use of quantitative versus qualitative methods. This article also directs additional attention to the use of mixed approaches in mass communication research. Some discussion of this phenomenon will be offered prior to describing the methods and results of this investigation.

Mixed Methods

The epistemological frictions of this field, as described by Cooper, Potter, and Dupagne, have hardly disappeared over the last decade. As they point out, the issue goes much deeper than "to count or not to count." The quantitative versus qualitative distinction is only the surface representation of a spectrum of fundamental orientations toward how the world may be known and how truth might be approached.

It is when such philosophical contrasts become politicized that the matter can become divisive. Perhaps as a consequence, we tend to see some degree of split in our journals, in the orientation of our academic units, and in our graduate instruction-all of which tend to be regarded as either quantitative or qualitative in orientation. Although purely qualitative or purely quantitative units, journals, and such are uncommon, truly ecumenical circumstances are certainly not the rule.

There has been some attention paid to the combining of quantitative and qualitative approaches. Weaver observed an increase in this variety of work in the 1980s and predicted that mixed approaches would increase in popularity.6 An underlying phenomenon that may be on the rise, as Cooper, Potter, and Dupagne suggested, is that of broader training in our graduate programs. In order to improve their competitive edge, doctoral students maybe equipping themselves with a wider range of research tools, either through personal initiative or as a consequence of programmatic requirements. …